Having read a number of guides on tips to do when proofreading as well as some questions on this website. They all refer to leaving some time between writing and proofreading. This time can vary from 5 minutes as per Purdue online writing lab

Even a five-minute break is productive because it will help you get some distance from what you have written.


Put the paper aside for a few hours, days, or weeks. The writing centre-UNC

My question is has there been any scientific work/papers done that gives a result on an optimum time to leave between writing and self-proofreading?

  • 4
    I wonder if this would get better answers on Writing...
    – ff524
    Commented Jul 21, 2014 at 21:57
  • In maths, I have seen somewhere (can't recall the reference...) the suggestion to leave a freshly written paper aside for at least a month but I am quite certain that no research supporting this was cited. Commented Jul 21, 2014 at 22:04
  • 6
    From my own experience I would be very surprised if the effect of proofreading is not monotonically rising with the length of the break. Thus the optimum break length is infinity – unless there is some other constraint or effect of your break length that forces you to compromise. Though such constraints undoubtably exist in reality (e.g., deadlines), they are usually very individual and thus do not allow for making any general statements in my opinion.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Jul 21, 2014 at 22:08
  • 7
    Also, as a (hopefully helpful and probably well-known) aside, in my experience switching from the computer screen to the printout (or even just to another device -- e.g. a tablet) considerably increases the efficiency of self-proofreading even though the time required for such a switch is usually small. Commented Jul 21, 2014 at 22:11
  • 2
    @just-learning: To add to this: It even suffices to see the text differently rendered. E.g., it is more effective to review one’s Stack Exchange post in the preview than in the edit field.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Jul 21, 2014 at 22:16

1 Answer 1


It appears a number of factors come into this, such as what point proofreading should be done, familiarity with the text and length of time away from it.

According to Jane Cogie, Kim Strain and Sharon Lorinskas

It is important also that editing [proofreading] be done at the appropriate stage of the writing process, that is, as the last step, after issues of organization, coherence, and flow have been addressed.

In a study, The generation effect in reading and proofreading, the authors Meredyth Daneman and Murray Stainton conducted the following experiments in which;

Subjects spent 30 minutes composing an essay on student life; after a 20 minute interval (Experiment 1) or a two week interval (Experiment 2) they proofread their own essay, another subject's essay after being familiarized on an error-free version of it, or another subject's essay without the benefit of a preview. Experiment 1 showed that subjects were less able to detect errors (e.g., The best part of student like is socializing.) in self-generated essays than in unfamiliar other-generated essays; on the other hand, they were better able to detect errors in familiar other-generated essays that in unfamiliar ones. Experiment 2 showed that the disadvantage for proofreading self-generated text is likely a by-product of extreme familiarity rather than any special quality of self-generated knowledge per se

Commenting on the above study, Maura Pilotti, and Martin Chodorow (doi:10.1007/s11145-007-9110-x) state that;

The difficulty experienced by proofreaders with their own writing occurred even though the proofreaders were warned that errors had been added to their writing prior to proofreading. Interestingly, the impairment uncovered by Daneman and Stainton turned into an advantage after a delay of 2 weeks between writing and proofreading. The researchers argued that the ‘‘excessive’’ familiarity afforded by one’s own text, which is likely to decline over time, is detrimental to proofreading because it promotes a less thorough processing of written material.

It would appear from the above that 20 minutes is too short a period, and that something like two weeks is more optimum, but if possible leave it as long as possible.

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